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Rail Budget: Six ministers in six years, will Suresh Prabhu compensate for wasted years and opportunities?

Rail Budget: Six ministers in six years, will Suresh Prabhu compensate for wasted years and opportunities?

Known as a very pragmatic man with a vision, Suresh Prabhu is expected to nurse the badly sick Indian Railways back to health.

New Delhi: The Indian Railways may have failed to achieve growth and speed up work in the last 6 years, but it has achieved one thing. India has seen six Railways ministers in the last six years. The relative stability at the Ministry of Railways came under serious threat after the Trinamul Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee took charge as the Union Railways minister in 2009. Keeping an eye on the West Bengal assembly elections, Mamata introduced series of populist schemes affecting the health of the Railways.

Her predecessor Lalu Prasad was no different either. Lalu who literally ruled the Railways like a king between 2004 and 2009, was also known for populist schemes. His claims of turning the Railways around were finally proved wrong and he was even accused of cooking the books to show huge profits.

During Lalu and Mamata's tenure, there was no fare hike and dozens of unviable schemes were announced. The coalition compulsions had kept the 'reformist' Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to keep quiet and do nothing about the Railways.

After Mamata became the Chief Minister of West Bengal in 2011, there was no Cabinet minister of Railways for months and the ministry suffered badly with no leader and mandate. After a lot of dillydallying Mamata finally appointed Dinesh Trivedi as Railways minister. A pragmatic Trivedi realised that the Railways was in a very bad shape and made it clear that unless the government puts a full stop to populist schemes, the Railways will bleed to death. Dinesh Trivedi tried to tighten the belts in his maiden Railway Budget in 2012. However, the move enraged his lady boss Mamata so much that he was sacked a day after the presentation of the Budget. He was not even allowed to give reply to the debate on his Budget in Parliament.

After the TMC broke away from the Congress led UPA, Pawan Kumar Bansal took charge as the Railways Minister. Since 1996, for the first time, the Railways Ministry was returned to a national party from the clutches of regional parties. However, his tenure was also short lived. PK Bansal had to quit after his nephew was caught while accepting bribe for a posting in the ministry. This scam severely dented the reputation of Bansal who was seen an 'honest' politician.

After Bansal's ouster, the Railways ministry was handed over to a top Dalit leader from Karnataka, M Mallikarjuna Kharge. It was a consolation prize for Kharge, who lost the Karnataka chief ministerial race to Siddaramaiah after party's return to power in May 2013.

Kharge had less than a year and had to follow the populist measures keeping an eye on the general elections, which Congress lost miserably. He could not even present a full budget. His valiant attempts to present a vote on account was also got drowned in the chaos created by the opposition MPs in the Lok Sabha.

The period between 2009 and 2014 has been known as 'wasted years of wasted opportunities' of Indian Railways. Not a single bold step to nurse the Railways back to health was taken during those years.

During his poll campaign the Prime Minister Narendra Modi had stressed on the need to restore the glory of Railways. The near bankruptcy of the Railways was also one of the main poll issues.

After he took charge as the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi appointed former Karnataka chief minister DV Sadananda Gowda as his Railways minister. Gowda presented an interim budget in June. He even gave some hints that his government was committed to reforms saying goodbye to populist schemes. But his tenure ended in just five months. In October 2014, in a surprise move, Modi brought in Shiv Sena leader Suresh Prabhu as the new Railways minister. Prabhu immediately quit the Shiv Sena to join the BJP.

Known as a very pragmatic man with a vision, Prabhu is expected to nurse the badly sick Indian Railways back to health. To achieve that, he has to administer bitter pills. Since the BJP alone has absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, Prabhu can't blame coalition compulsions for his government's failure to put the derailed Railways ministry back on the tracks.

Will he be able to do that? His maiden Budget on Thursday will have the answer.